KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The former St. Thomas Aquinas choir director who secretly recorded students and other people, some while they were changing, has been sentenced to more than five years in prison.
Joseph Heidesh, 47, pleaded guilty to 26 counts, including one count of sexual exploitation of a child and 25 counts of breach of privacy in December.
He was sentenced Wednesday in Johnson County District Court to five years and eight months in jail, including credit for 260 days already served.
Heidesch also must register as a sex offender, cannot own a firearm and will be subject to lifetime post-release supervision.
The alleged recordings, including at least of a person under age 14, were made between Jan. 1, 2019, and Sept. 16, 2021.
Heidesch was initially charged with two counts of sexual exploitation of a child and two counts of breach of privacy before prosecutors added 26 additional counts of breach of privacy.
Four counts were later dismissed by the prosecutor.
Several of Heidesh’s victims spoke at his sentencing hearing before Judge Michael P. Joyce signed off on a plea agreement and imposed the maximum sentence.
“Joe was like a father figure to all of us and we experienced the worst betrayal possible,” one student victim said.
Another student victim called Heidesch a predator, saying she was repeatedly lured to his office. Some said they had reservations, but dismissed them because they trusted Heidesch.
“Every good thing is tainted in a way I didn’t think possible,” one student victim said.
One student victim said she now fears using public bathrooms over fears she might be recorded, while another said she distrusts college professors over fears they also may be recording her.
Another student said she has anxiety looking in the mirror, wondering if it’s a two-way mirror.
“I hold so much anger inside me and it’s exhausting,.” one student victim said. “I hope he thinks about every girl he’s impacted.”
Another student victim said she feared the photos or videos may wind up online.
“The impacts of Joe’s actions will be with me always,” another student victim said. “I will never be able to fully reclaim what Mr. Heidesch took from me.“
Heidesch has 14 days in which he can file an appeal.
Heidesch waxed poetic about his faith, then apologized to the judge, prosecutor and Aquinas in court and expressed before he acknowledged his victims.
“Lastly, I want to deeply apologize to all of the students and parents who have been affected by this,” Heidesch said. “I am so, so sorry.”
He also blamed a mental-health disorder and pornography for his actions then, in continuing the bizarre 6-minute statement.
Midway through, he circled back to his Catholic faith, saying many saints “don’t always have perfect pasts,” rattling off the names of several “with really checkered pasts with sexual sins,” before declaring he wanted to “change his life so I can get to sainthood.”
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